Finding a way to serve

With mini pupillages and other work experience cancelled, Zeenat Islam explains how Learning for Lawyers – REDEFINED is helping to unlock the law for those struggling to access opportunities

In the first few weeks of lockdown, despite being privileged enough still to be able to work from home, I felt an incredible sense of helplessness. Doing anything ‘normal’ seemed meaningless. It wasn’t doing anything to help anyone, at a time when it felt like so much was needed. I did the things that I am sure many of us did; looked for community groups helping the elderly and vulnerable, donated to charities and food banks and signed up on the NHS Volunteer Responders website.

After some reflection, I realised that this was my way of trying to deal with my anxiety – finding a way to help. I realised that this was so much bigger than me and all of us. I stepped back and refocused to really think about what I could do, with my skills and experience in order to serve others. I looked closer to home, within my own sphere of influence – lawyers, aspiring lawyers and students – people that I work with on projects outside of the current context. I decided to focus on what I could do, rather than what I could not.

There is no doubt that all of our lives have been impacted by COVID-19, in so many different ways. I thought about students and aspiring lawyers who would be missing out due to cancelled mini pupillages, work experience and networking events and the impact that this may have on their career journeys.

As such, was born; a series of online workshops and masterclasses facilitated by myself, other experienced practitioners, trainee lawyers and other professionals. They span four themes:

  • Insight: hearing from practitioners about their alternative journeys into law and advice they can provide.
  • Skills: masterclasses on key skills such as advocacy, drafting, CVs, applications and interviews.
  • Growth: sessions focused on personal development and growth more broadly including mindset coaching and wellbeing.
  • In focus: panel events discussing topical and important areas such as problems with diversity and inclusion and barriers to the profession.

 

The project is ‘redefined’ in that we:

  • are providing a more holistic programme of learning that covers traditional skills development but also emphasises personal growth and development;
  • are drawing together diverse, representative and varied panels of contributors with the purpose of amplifying alternative voices; and
  • will be exploring important topics through a critical lens eg tick box diversity initiatives, imposter syndrome and how to use our privilege and platform as lawyers for social change.

 

Small voluntary donations are invited for each session, supporting charities and causes relevant to each theme. For example, for our female coaching session, donations went to Women for Refugee Women. For our diversity session, donations will be going to a social mobility organisation.

It is hoped that the project will also help widen access to information and opportunities in law. Work experience placements and mini pupillages can be highly competitive. Many are unable to take part in these schemes due to financial barriers, caring commitments, geographical distance,and not being able to take the time off work etc. This project is open to all and targeted at those who would otherwise struggle to access such opportunities.

I am excited to see where this project goes and I am making the information available online by way of video/audio uploads, so it can act as a continuing resource. Longer term, I hope to adapt the project into a series which amplifies the journeys, voices and experiences that we do not always hear from. The idea is that these alternative stories may resonate with a much larger, more representative cohort of young people trying to break into professions like law.

Amidst the crisis and collective grief we all feel, there is always something that we can do to try and make something better for someone else. I encourage others to find what that might look like for you, and hope that it helps, in the way it has for me. I am heartened to see the amazing offerings of help that so many lawyers are offering online. It represents just a small portion of the amazing way individuals and communities are coming together in these extremely difficult times.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude, to the brave and amazing people working on the frontline, saving lives, delivering essential services and keeping our country going. My biggest hope for our ‘post-corona’ world, is that there is a better understanding of, and respect for these heroes.

‘The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson

For more information please click here. If any practitioners would like to support a session, please email: hello@zeenatislam.com

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Zeenat Islam

Zeenat Islam is a barrister at 25 Bedford Row. She is an Associate Tutor at the University of Warwick and teaches Practical Advocacy to LLB students. She is the founder of REDEFINED: Learning for Lawyers which is an alternative learning platform for aspiring lawyers from underrepresented groups.